Born: March 29, 1790 in Charles City County, Virginia
Died: January 18,
1862 in Richmond, Virginia
Married to Letitia Christian Tyler and to Julia
Dubbed "His Accidency" by his detractors, John Tyler was the
first Vice President to be elevated to the office of President by the
death of his predecessor.
Born in Virginia in 1790, he was raised believing that the Constitution
must be strictly construed. He never wavered from this conviction. He
attended the College of William and Mary and studied law.
Serving in the House of Representatives from 1816 to 1821, Tyler voted
against most nationalist legislation and opposed the Missouri Compromise.
After leaving the House he served twice as Governor of Virginia. As a
Senator he reluctantly supported Jackson for President as a choice of
evils. Tyler soon joined the states' rights Southerners in Congress who
banded with Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and their newly formed Whig party
opposing President Jackson.
The Whigs nominated Tyler for Vice President in 1840, hoping for support
from southern states'-righters who could not stomach Jacksonian Democracy.
The slogan "Tippecanoe and Tyler Too" implied flagwaving nationalism
plus a dash of southern sectionalism.
Clay, intending to keep party leadership in his own hands, minimized
his nationalist views temporarily; Webster proclaimed himself "a
Jeffersonian Democrat." But after the election, both men tried to
dominate "Old Tippecanoe."
Suddenly President Harrison was dead, and "Tyler too" was
in the White House. At first the Whigs were not too disturbed, although
Tyler insisted upon assuming the full powers of a duly elected President.
He even delivered an Inaugural Address, but it seemed full of good Whig
doctrine. Whigs, optimistic that Tyler would accept their program, soon
Tyler was ready to compromise on the banking question, but Clay would
not budge. He would not accept Tyler's "exchequer system," and
Tyler vetoed Clay's bill to establish a National Bank with branches in
several states. A similar bank bill was passed by Congress. But again,
on states' rights grounds, Tyler vetoed it.
In retaliation, the Whigs expelled Tyler from their party. All the Cabinet
resigned but Secretary of State Webster. A year later when Tyler vetoed
a tariff bill, the first impeachment resolution against a President was
introduced in the House of Representatives. A committee headed by Representative
John Quincy Adams reported that the President had misused the veto power,
but the resolution failed.
Despite their differences, President Tyler and the Whig Congress enacted
much positive legislation. The "Log-Cabin" bill enabled a settler
to claim 160 acres of land before it was offered publicly for sale, and
later pay $1.25 an acre for it.
In 1842 Tyler did sign a tariff bill protecting northern manufacturers.
The Webster-Ashburton treaty ended a Canadian boundary dispute; in 1845
Texas was annexed.
The administration of this states'-righter strengthened the Presidency.
But it also increased sectional cleavage that led toward civil war. By
the end of his term, Tyler had replaced the original Whig Cabinet with
southern conservatives. In 1844 Calhoun became Secretary of State. Later
these men returned to the Democratic Party, committed to the preservation
of states' rights, planter interests, and the institution of slavery.
Whigs became more representative of northern business and farming interests.
When the first southern states seceded in 1861, Tyler led a compromise
movement; failing, he worked to create the Southern Confederacy. He died
in 1862, a member of the Confederate House of Representatives.